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Dating Diabetics - Flirting with Disease

The world of dating has changed so much so that it is almost unrecognisable to 20 years ago. At every stage of human evolution we have physically needed to meet the person in the flesh before deciding If you were going to jump in bed with them, but that has changed. A simply swipe left or right and it’s firmly on or off.

I grew up in the 90’s and it was all about going to the pub, getting some dutch courage and actually speaking directly to the person you fancied. No pretending to be someone you weren’t (well, I was a fireman a few times), and you certainly couldn’t filter how you looked; What god gave you is what you ran with. This is obviously still the case to some degree, but often this results in a confusion of expectations when first meeting.

Arguably, the online world is helping to create a very different and often confusing social setting, whereby people in search of human connection are finding the exact opposite - digital disorientation.

Granted, phones are now a key component to work allowing us to do business without setting foot in an office or picking up a laptop, so It’s easy to understand how many of us are using them more and more for work purposes, but dating and relationships requires touch and smell, and feelings; human emotions that text and photos cannot and will not ever replace.

We‘re standing behind filters, bravado and reworded, revised sentences to try and make us look perfect - but we’re not - we’re human.

People with diabetes are no different In this respect, but carrying the onerous burden of an invisible disease can often lead to increased anxiety and apprehension when navigating the world of dating and relationships.

What to expect when dating a person with diabetes.

People with diabetes are forced to make countless more decisions a day based on every aspect of our lives. Food, exercise, stress, sleep, sickness, etc - It all has an impact on our blood sugars and unfortunately, we need to act on the behalf of our pancreas. This is an immensely complicated and arduous job that will never stop or even slow down.

Understandably, this creates the opportunity for stress to creep into our day, and when you mix stress with fluctuating blood sugars, well, we won’t go there.

That means there has to be a level of understanding and empathy from the non-diabetic toward the diabetic and their life living with this disease. If this doesn’t occur, it will only cause confusion and conflict.

Due to the nature of diabetes management, it Is vital that our partners (as a bare minimum) understand what affects our blood sugars and health. This means continual guidance on insulin, appropriate food, exercise and everything else that can trigger ups and downs of blood sugar. This is a life long lesson as our body changes and adapts, but one that can strengthen the bond.

There will be blood.

From time to time there will be blood. Sometimes just a drop (well, all the time), and other times a hose pipe of thick and sweet crimson gore spraying every surface and clothing. The resulting picture is somewhere between a horror movie and an episode of greys anatomy.

But that’s ok.

It’s to be expected when we’re pricking and prodding ourselves with needles into areas that don’t want to be pricked and prodded.

Life with diabetes means we cannot escape a day without needles and occasional blood. Its par for the course. So if you have a fear of either, it’s time tackle it head on or enlist the help of a professional, because we shouldn’t have to live with further hurdles than we already have to.

Dietary Requirements

I’m sorry, many may disagree with me here but in order to control diabetes as best we can and minimise the chance of complications our diet needs to be adjusted (I.e. Insulin to cover food is not good enough).

Removing highly processed and refined foods, as well as high carbohydrate food will only improve your health and keep your blood sugars lower and more stable. This is the priority. We know for certain that high and regularly fluctuating blood sugars cause damage to every organ in the body.

We also know that high circulating levels of insulin (which accompanies blood sugar response) contributes toward increased hunger and fat storage, increased triglycerides, chronic inflammation, increased blood pressure, insulin resistance, and a host of serious disease such as heart disease, Alzheimer's and Cancer. Therefore, keeping the body sensitive to insulin and not injecting large quantities to cover high carb foods is vital to healthy outcomes.

Back on point; if your partner or prospective partner doesn’t understand this and pushes you to eat and drink the often toxic food considered ‘normal’, there will inevitably be conflict, and educating them on the consequences of such food is integral. of course, they can eat and drink what they like - it’s their life after all - but you may well find that as their knowledge grows they adopt a similar way of eating (WOE) to you.

Questions and Stares

Many people are now used to seeing various diabetes technology in the wild due to the huge increases in metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance) - following the adoption of the Standard American Diet (SAD) - and subsequent media storm around the epidemic. However, injecting insulin and finger pricking will still catch the eye of some.

Eating out, exercising, or even shopping will occasionally get the attention of someone interested to know what you’re doing or what the technology is. 99% of the time it is innocent and their intentions are good with simple curiosity. It gives you a chance to educate them and even make a new friend. Many will have a family member or friend with the same disease and for a brief moment it’s possible to connect with someone who understands - embrace it.

The other 1% may be different - particularly if you’re seen injecting and a person is ignorant to this necessary part of life. Again, educate them and stay firm and confident that this is normal and it is they who need to evolve their way of thinking. Don’t ever let anyone get you down or hide this part of your life. We are stronger for it.

Mood Swings

I am conscious here that everyone can be moody at times, not just people with diabetes. Being fatigued or stressed plays a big part in how we treat and respond to others. However, if your blood sugars swing - so does your capacity to keep a stable frame of mind.

At times this is unavoidable, but most of the time it is within our control, and it is never intentional.

On a first date? They don’t need to know this. Thinking about buying a house together? Then It’s vital they’re aware of this side-effect of blood sugar rollercoasters, and that it‘s not a personal attack, but during a ‘hypo’ it triggers a surge of adrenaline as your body tries to release glycogen in the liver as it believes it‘s in a ‘fight or flight’ mode.

A similar reaction with anger, anxiety or confusion can be witnessed during a ‘hyper’ as heart rate and blood pressure rises. Of course, the stress of simply trying to manage diabetes can also increase the likelihood of mood swings which can impact relationships, so keeping communication open and honest will keep both parties happy and relaxed.

Diabetes will become part of your life

No-one wants disease thrust upon them, but if you love a diabetic you’re going to have to get used to it enveloping your life. Sure, if you’ve got the whole management thing down pat then life will be easier, but the reality is a diabetic rarely stops thinking about diabetes.

Checking blood sugars, injecting insulin, watching trends, and calculating grams of food takes time - a lot of time.

Then there’s the social side; friends asking how it’s going (are we ever going to answer this question with - “crap Sharon, my diabetes is going crap“ - I doubt it.

Navigating this can be tricky, particularly if you are strict with your diet and you’re constantly asked “can you eat this?” or the slightly more provoking “should you be eating that?” - “yes, Sharon! I can eat what I bloody like” (Probably shouldn’t be shouted). Again, a simple answer can be - “I can eat what I like, but I choose to not put certain foods in my body due to their impact on my health”, followed by (said in your brain) “perhaps you should do the same thing”.

Food shopping will never be the same again.

Knowing your way around a food nutrition label is a prerequisite of being (and living with) a diabetic. Learning how many different ways a food manufacturer can say ‘sugar’ is also extremely important. You’ll grow very tired and angry at the lengths food companies will go to try and make you buy their colourful and healthy-sounding ’feed‘ (yes, I’m comparing it to what we feed livestock) - packed with sugar, preservatives and chemicals.

Ideally, the supermarket should be avoided but if that is unavoidable, then staying clear of the middle isles will reduce the chance of you picking something up that isn’t suitable for landfill.

Another way of looking at it is if the ’feed’ is in a packet, it’ll cause you harm in one way or another. Keep it simple.

Understanding the severity

Its not a nice topic but burying our heads in the sand will only cause more stress in the long run, and if a partner is educated on the risks associated with diabetes, they’re more likely to help you stay on the straight and narrow.

I'm going to throw a few numbers your way now and it doesn’t make for light reading but believe me, you’re better off knowing than not. Why? Because then you can do something about it.

  1. Heart disease is 3 to 5x that of non-diabetics, where it is already the number one killer. HbA1c is the leading cardiovascular risk in type 1 diabetics. 65% of diabetics will die from heart disease and stroke.

  2. 100% of diabetics will get some form of retinopathy. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness.

  3. 70% of diabetics will develop high blood pressure.

  4. 44% of diabetics will develop kidney disease. Diabetes is the number one cause of kidney disease.

  5. 20% of pregnancies - where blood glucose levels are poorly controlled - lead to spontaneous abortion or birth defects.

Unfortunately, there are more but like I said, light reading it is not.

Why are these numbers so abhorrent? Because from the moment we’re diagnosed were set up to fail (unless you have a progressive self-educated dr and medical team), and it comes down to one thing. Diet.

If you’re told you can eat what you want and live the same as everyone else who doesn’t have an autoimmune disease then you’re being lied to, and the chances of you remaining complication free for your whole life are slim.

However, if you educate yourself and your loved ones, whilst staying resolute to your commitment of health and well-being, your chances are greatly increased. So much so that you may well have better health outcomes than non-diabetics (See Dr Richard Bernstein).

That is the point here!

Education is the key, and you won’t get that from a lot of Dr’s and certainly not from Dietitian‘s yet... yet (I say with hopeful naivety).

Being strict with your glycemic control is not easy but the time and commitment keeping it stable will pay off in the form of far reduced risk of the aforementioned complications. If you’ve got a partner dedicated to this pursuit as well it will pay dividends down the track.

This leads me on to my next point.

Embrace the benefits of health awareness

It may sound strange, but when dating a diabetic it will also greatly benefit the non-diabetic‘s health.

People with diabetes strive for the health of someone who doesn’t have diabetes, but who also follows best-practice daily habits to decrease their chances of bad outcomes - I.e. someone with perfect metabolic health.

Being aware of toxic food, keeping blood sugars low and the body sensitive to insulin will benefit all parties.

I often hear “but you eat like that because you’re a diabetic” (I.e. I have no choice) - no, I eat like this to keep me healthy and give me the best chance of not succumbing to any complication. What has astounded me is all the other benefits which are not advertised. Here’s just a few; (since eating keto and keeping healthy daily practices, like intermittent fasting, exercise etc)

  1. Improved mood / stability

  2. Slim and consistent weight (12% body fat)

  3. Improved eyesight

  4. Teeth sensitivity has gone and gums never bleed

  5. Improved quality of sleep - fall asleep after 5 mins (took me 30-45 mins whilst growing up)

  6. Consistent and high energy levels (no 3pm fatigue)

  7. Clear, concise and continuous mental focus

  8. I haven’t been sick in 3 years

  9. Require less sleep

  10. Optimum blood sugar control (A1c: 5.0 - 94% time in range (TIR)

In other words, make your family and friends jealous by being in the best shape of your life despite having to manage a chronic disease.

In summary

People with diabetes are faced with many challenges throughout their lives. These can often take a mental and physical toll, but they also have a remarkable benefit.

Diabetics are resilient and courageous people who have amazing empathy and patience for others facing struggles. They multitask like no-ones business and are Nutritionists, Dr’s, fitness instructors and mathematicians all rolled into one.

Plus, if anything, dating a diabetic is entertaining. Seeing blood squirt onto clothing or getting your pump wrapped around a toddlers neck is hilarious.

Keep laughing. Keep motivated. Keep asking questions and keep an eye on your blood sugars.


Nathan Spencer

Believe the hypo

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